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Houston government repeatedly defends doing nothing to limit non-disclosure agreements

NDP Leader Claudia Chender wants to restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
NDP Leader Claudia Chender wants to restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Opposition members of the Nova Scotia legislature used International Women's Day on Friday to question the Progressive Conservative government's decision not to limit the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault or harassment.

"I want to remind the premier that there is near universal public support for restricting the abuse of non-disclosure agreements," said NDP Leader Claudia Chender, who has had a bill designed to do just that available for debate since April 2022.

"Why won't the Premier act to stop the abuse of non-disclosure agreements?"

In response, Premier Tim Houston said: "Nobody wants to see non-disclosure agreements used to silence victims.

"But we believe that survivors should have the option to make an informed choice on whether or not to sign an NDA," said Houston. "We're concerned about removing that option from survivors."

Houston said he had heard from victims who have praised his government for not legislating against or limiting NDAs.

Premier Tim Houston says he's focused on "value for patients," not value for money.
Premier Tim Houston says he's focused on "value for patients," not value for money.

Premier Tim Houston says sexual abuse victims should be able to decide whether or not they want to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government spent years reviewing the issue before Justice Minister Brad Johns made public the decision to do nothing last fall. At the time, Johns struggled to justify or explain that decision.

"It's a complex issue and there are pros and cons to both sides of the issue," Johns told reporters.

As he has done since coming to power, Houston responded only twice to questions directed at him during Friday's question period, redirecting subsequent queries to cabinet colleagues who reiterated the government's position about leaving victim's the choice to sign NDAs if they wanted to.

The responses drew this rebuke from the only Independent member of the legislature, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin.

"It's embarrassing to stand here in this Chamber as a woman today," said Smith-McCrossin.

"To listen to the comments being made by the premier and his members, there's no defence to not changing the laws around the misuse of NDA's in this province.

"There is no excuse. We know better."

Independent MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin spoke with reporters on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Independent MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin spoke with reporters on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.

Independent MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin slammed the PC government's position. (CBC)

Outside the chamber, Chender told reporters the law she has proposed does not prevent anyone from signing a non-disclosure agreement if that's what they wish.

"The legislation which we tabled, which is based on model legislation that has been introduced right around the world, including in Prince Edward Island, expressly gives victims that informed choice to enter into an agreement," said Chender.

"The whole problem with the misuse of NDA's is that victims do not have an informed choice. They are forced to sign in exchange for money and perpetrators go on to perpetrate abuse again and again and again."

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